The Northern Territory News has filled the territory election opinion poll void today with a phone survey of 1088 respondents covering four Darwin and Palmerston seats, the general impression of which is that the CLP will emerge from Saturday’s election with a small majority. The poll was conducted by “Advertiser Newspapers Marketing Information Services”, an entity which turns up zero results in Google. I take this to mean that the Adelaide Advertiser’s makeshift in-house polling set-up, which occasionally turns up more-or-less plausible results on voting intention in South Australia, was set to work on voters in Darwin. The paper assures us the methodology was sophisticated enough to encompass quota sampling by age and gender and rotation of candidate order between interviews.

The seats targeted are two held by Labor, Fannie Bay (margin 1.3%) and Johnston (6.6%), and two by the CLP, Brennan (3.1%) and Sanderson (7.4%). Taken together, the results suggest a 6% swing to the CLP which if uniform would win them Fannie Bay and send both Johnston and the Darwin outskirts seat of Daly (margin 5.8%) down to the wire. Other things being equal, this would leave the CLP with between 13 and 15 seats out of 25. However, assuming uniform swings is not generally advisable in Northern Territory elections, where candidate factors loom especially large. This is particularly significant given the poll’s seat breakdowns, bearing in mind the small samples and high margins of error:

Fannie Bay. Polled on Wednesday; 226 respondents; 6.4% margin of error. Primary votes: Labor 49%, CLP 41%, Greens 10%. This suggests a 57-43 win to Labor in their most marginal seat, and a swing in their favour approaching 6%. Such a result would be in line with the local consensus, with Labor member Michael Gunnar widely tipped to consolidate the seat on the back of a handsome sophomore surge (he succeeded former Chief Minister Clare Martin as member in 2008).

Johnston. Polled on Monday; 279 respondents; 5.7% margin of error. Primary votes: CLP 48%; Labor 34%; Greens 11%; Sex Party 4%; independent 3%. I make that a CLP two-party lead of 54-46 and a 10% swing. The poll was conducted before news emerged of Labor candidate Ken Vowles’s spent conviction on assault, the subject of a sustained attack from the Northern Territory News last week after a government staffer threatened legal action if they ran with the story.

Sanderson. Polled on Monday; 317 respondents; 5.3% margin of error. Primary votes: CLP 60%, Labor 35%, Sex Party 3%, other 2%. That would give the CLP a 62-38 win on two-party preferred and a swing of about 5%. Those who have been talking up Labor’s chances have pointed to this northern Darwin seat as the potential gain they will need to secure a majority, if as expected Alison Anderson retains the outback seat of Namatjira after having defected from Labor to the CLP.

Brennan. Polled on Wednesday; 266 respondents; 5.9% margin of error. Votes: CLP 68%, Labor 32% (only two candidates), a swing to the CLP of about 15%. This Palmerston seat was lost by then CLP leader Denis Burke at the 2005 election and recovered for them in 2008 by Peter Chandler, who stands to benefit from sophomore surge. The margin indicated by the poll is in line with what would normally be expected from this traditionally safe CLP seat.

Given Labor’s apparently strong position in Fannie Bay, the poll gives them hope that they could cop a very solid swing and still narrowly retain all their existing seats. However, unless they pulled off a coup by nabbing a seat from the CLP, that would still leave the parties tied on 12 seats with the balance of power held by independent Gerry Wood in Nelson, whose re-election is being generally taken for granted. Namatjira looms as a wild card in this respect, although my own guess would be that Alison Anderson’s personal vote will keep the seat firmly in the CLP fold. The other CLP marginals of Port Darwin (2.9%) and Fong Lim (4.3%) do not seem promising prospects for Labor, having been gained by high-profile CLP members John Elferink and Dave Tollner in 2008.

The paper also tells us that “nearly half” of the respondents in Sanderson and Johnston favour Paul Henderson as preferred leader against a respective 36% and and 26% for Terry Mills, though no clear figures are provided for the other two seats.